Of all the things people associate with Berlin, running isn’t usually one. Inhabitants of the German capital have plenty of ways to stay active during their day-to-day lives, but the city has never established itself as a running city in the way you might think of London or New York.
Which is strange, because Berlin is arguably much more running-friendly than those two cities. Its wide roads and sidewalks are a runner’s dream, its loose grid system makes planning routes easy, and its wealth of parks, canals, and open spaces mean you’re never short on scenery—which other cities can offer an abandoned airstrip the size of Monaco for your morning run, for example?
But now some key players are working to raise Berlin’s profile as a major European running city, hosting a number of major running events throughout the year, with the Berlin Half Marathon coming up on April 7th. Now, Nike has stepped in to play its part promoting the fundamental principles of long-distance running, documenting popular German rapper Kontra K’s training regimen as he attempts to smash his current personal best with help from Berlin’s leading running crew, the Kraft Runners – dive straight into their key training tips with Highsnobiety TAPS here.
Founded in 2016 by Marco Pruefer and Niko Zeigert, in just over two years the Kraft Runners have built a name for promoting running as an opportunity to meet people, have a good time and achieve new goals. Their hope is by leading the way and showing the potential we have with proper training and determination—such as a recent project running 550km from Los Angeles to Las Vegas last year—they can inspire others to start pursuing their own personal goals.
“Kraft Runners took sport to another dimension for me,” Pruefer explains. “I’m not just running for myself anymore. We’re setting an example to the public and to the people who come to our training sessions. That’s the motivation for me. If I lead by example, leave an impression, then they might think, ‘Hey, if they ran from L.A. to Las Vegas, then I can do a half marathon in Berlin.’”
For Kontra K, who boasts over 900,000 followers on Instagram and whose most recent single, ‘Colors’, has racked up over 7 million views on YouTube, the experience has been a humbling one. Putting music to the side, as an athlete, he’s on the same level as everyone else. “Look at today. We’re all doing the same steps, talking about the same things, what our favorite warm-up is,” he says. “I was in a shelter recently where we were training with refugees and migrants from all over the world, and when the conversation turned to sport or football, everyone was on the same page. That’s a universal language.”
So in the run-up for the big event, Kontra K and the Kraft Runners share some of their tips for staying motivated when training for long-distance running, as well as some details about Kontra K’s personal training regimen for April 7th.
When it comes to running, it’s easy to become too focused on the main event, but undoubtedly the most important thing is proper training. While leg training is obviously central, it’s also important to have well-trained back and abdominal muscles to avoid back pain.
With this in mind, Kontra K and the Kraft Runners have been mixing short-distance and longer-distance endurance runs with a number of core exercises that are easy to do in virtually any location, such as push-ups, squats, sit-ups, and stability and back exercises. By supplementing a minimum of 60 minutes’ weekly running training with 10 minute core activities throughout the week, it’s easy to get into a training routine and get motivated to push further in the coming weeks.
Once you’ve established a regimen and began setting yourself goals, working up towards the half marathon is much less daunting, as Kontra K experienced. “For me, it was more of a psychological thing,” he explains. “Sometimes you see people running who you think won’t make it to 10k, and then they run through to 21.1 km no problem. Ultimately, I want to complete it, but if my finish time is even halfway good, then I’ve done it.”
“It’s just on my bucket list. ‘I’ve run the half marathon through Berlin. My son was proud and was really excited to see my medal.’ There’s nothing better than that. I can be proud that I did it.”
One of the beauties of running is that it’s a totally democratic sport—virtually anyone can do it with little more than a pair of running shoes. There are a multitude of ways to do it, from relays and sprints to long-distance endurance runs, meaning speed is only one gauge for measuring your personal development.
This is something Marco has encountered multiple times. “Of course, with running you can always get faster,” he tells me. “But at some point, I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional. I’m a normal guy who goes running with his friends. At some point, you reach a limit, and the work to go further is so intense that you pull back and say, I’d rather set myself new goals – to train for a triathlon with Niko, or try a different sport, or run together to Moscow or something. It isn’t necessarily about doing faster runs, just setting goals and staying healthy.”
As well as being a musician, Kontra K is also a formidable kickboxer, competing in the Berlin Championships in 2014. Even in a close-contact sport like that, the principles of running proved vital. “Running is essential for everything. The stuff we did today, sprinting and running, that’s serious training. It pushes you to get the best out of your body. When I was competing in the ring, the best fighters in the ring were the sprinters. It’s the only way to achieve that serious conditioning.”
“It’s easy to see running as a bit nerdy,” Marco responds. “I get that for kids it’s hard to ‘get’ what we’re doing. But that’s why we do it the way we do, running with confetti and smoke bombs, doing it together, showing we’re not doing it alone. It might not be football where you have a ball tying the team together, but for us, this is a team sport.”
“When we founded Kraft Runners, we were suddenly standing in front of like 50-100 people. Some of them were there for the first time. It’s important for us to tell people to their face, ‘Every one of you can do this. You will suffer a bit, but I promise, there’s someone else suffering with you.’ So our motivation is high-fives, encouragement, and not leaving anyone behind. We’ve had people on their first run that have had to leave after 50m, but we brought them with us, and now some of them are ready to run the half marathon.”
That spirit of bringing people together, encouraging each other, and working toward a shared goal is something Kontra K and Marco return to repeatedly. For Marco, his main desire is to transform running from an individual to a team sport.
As for Kontra, himself a born-and-raised Berliner, there’s a recognition that training has been one of his anchors throughout his life, and a desire to promote the discipline and ethos it has instilled in him with others. He’s even scouting for locations to open up his own boxing gym.
“I’m in the lucky position to do everything I do out of love for it. If I can teach even a handful of kids to experience sport the way I’ve experienced it, not by molding them, but by teaching them to find their own fire, that changes them.”
“I work a lot with Berlin’s migrant and refugee population. Out of the 200 people we’ve worked with, we had one native German. And whatever they learn—running or boxing—they learn something. With boxing, the first time you get hit in the face, you lose some of your pride. It humbles you. And it can be the same in running.”
“It’s not about being the fastest, or the ‘best’. When you learn that, you’ve learned an important lesson. It’s about who you are, what you achieve, being fair. Whatever you’re doing, if you can do it without looking down on others or thinking too much of yourself, you’ve won.”
- Photography: Kane Holz